Uffa Fox: Celebrating the legend

Published on April 26th, 2021

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Uffa Fox in 2022, one of the most highly regarded naval architects and enthusiast of all aspects of sailing, a series of events in England are being organized for August 18-21 to celebrate the life of a man so ahead of his time.

Born in 1898 on the Isle of Wight, Uffa grew up on Cowes waterfront where at the age of 21 he set up his own boat building business. He was the father of the planing dinghy, having worked on high speed power craft, and believed that if a dinghy hull were made the right shape, and her crew held her upright, she could be made to plane over the surface.

He was a little diffident about it but finally gave his theories full rein in the International 14 Avenger. In 57 starts in 1928 she gained 52 first places, two seconds and three thirds including winning the coveted Prince of Wales Cup. A large order book was soon built up and for many years his were the most sought after designs.

Uffa even sailed Avenger 100 miles across the English Channel to Le Havre – three-up – in a mere 27 hours. He then proceeded to claim a victory over the French on their home waters, then promptly turn around and sail Avenger home in another 37 hours.

Prior to the Second World War Uffa had established his name primarily in the world of dinghies, where his designs dominated the National Twelves, Fourteens and Eighteens.

During the Second World War Uffa conceived the idea of the Airborne Lifeboat, a vessel to be carried beneath aeroplanes and dropped by parachute to survivors of ditched aircraft. Lightly built, with lines that blended to the shape of the planes, the Airbornes had sails, engine, survival kit and instructions on how to sail. Many aircrews owed their lives to Uffa’s invention.

For all his success in the field of yacht racing, he maintained that this was his most fulfilling design.

Immediately after the war he was closely associated with Fairey Marine of Hamble who built hot moulded boats to his design. Included in the impressive list were International Fourteens, Firefly, Swordfish, Albacore, Jolly Boat, Duckling and the cruiser Atalanta.

Although he had been well known in yachting circles for many years it was Uffa’s association with royalty which spilled his name over on to the broad mass of the British public. He and the Duke of Edinburgh raced together on the Dragon Bluebottle.

The royal helmsman, with Uffa as crew, was also prominent at Cowes Week in the Flying Fifteen, Coweslip. This 20 foot keelboat was one of Uffa’s most successful post-war designs.

Out of the Flying Fifteen design came Uffa’s next wave of inspiration, producing a range of planing keelboats from the Flying Ten through to the Flying Twenty Five. Then using similar hulls he produced a range of cruiser/racer yachts from the Flying Twenty Five through to the Flying Fifty. (The Flying Thirty and Thirty Five designs actually planed in the right conditions!)

In the 1960s Uffa became associated with the American yachtsman and boat builder George O’Day. This liaison resulted in the Daysailer and Javelin classes. The last boat Uffa designed for his own use was a 25 foot launch Ankle Deep.

For the 50th anniversary of his death, the Classic Boat Museum will be organizing a series of events including seminars and an exhibition of Uffa’s various dinghies.

The Uffa Fox celebrations will be followed by the Flying Fifteen European Championship organized by the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club on August 20-26, 2022.

It is appropriate that the Royal London Yacht Club should be chosen to organize the sailing as Uffa was a stalwart of the RLYC and, as Chairman of the Sailing Committee, was instrumental in the resurgence of sailing after the Second World War.

The 2022 Uffa Fox Regatta will be for 100% Uffa Fox designed dinghies, keelboats and classic boats, with some classes’ racing areas along the shore to attract spectators.

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